Law Sucks. What Else is There? Legal Startup Companies

By William Peacock, Esq. on May 22, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Class of 2013, we’re not sure what you were thinking. You applied and entered law school after the crash. It was common knowledge that there were no jobs. It was a near-certainty that none were coming either.

That doesn’t help you now, however. And we’ve been there - with student loan companies calling, craigslist-sourced employers not beckoning, and your parents nagging you to take out the trash and mop the kitchen before dinner. It gets better. We promise.

It may not get better as a lawyer, however. BigLaw is still not hiring. Many states, California included, are shuttering courthouses and slashing funding. Public service openings are few and far between.

As a lawyer, you may be forced to choose between opening your own firm or working for minimal wages in small law hell.

Remember that advice that a J.D. is good for more than just lawyering? It wasn't a complete lie. We've talked about teaching, journalism, and blogging as alternative career paths. Here's another idea: enter the world of startups.

In the past few years, there have been a number of intriguing startup companies focused on revolutionizing the legal industry. Stanford Law School has a program that acts like a startup incubator for law students called CodeX: The Stanford Center for Legal Informatics. The "multidisciplinary laboratory" (geeks in the basement with laptops) mixes coders and engineers with law students.

Stanford's incubator, as well as others, have led to a number of promising startups that we'll be keeping an eye on, including:

  • Ravel: a legal research site that seems to have SCOTUS and Circuit Cases indexed, along with a bubble graph that maps the search results, including the "citation network" of cases. It reminds me a bit of Fastcase's approach to cite checking.
  • Judicata: their site doesn't say much, but one of the founders' blogs says a lot more. "Judicata is mapping the legal genome--i.e. using highly specialized case law parsing and algorithmically assisted human review to turn unstructured court opinions into structured data." That's a bit over my head (taking my first coding class now), but it certainly sounds impressive, as does their $2 million in VC funding.
  • Lex Machina: describing this site as an IP litigation web crawler is understating its function. It trolls PACER, the Patent and Trademark Office, court websites, and other sources to track patent and trademark litigation, from patent filing to court disposition.
  • an obvious concept not yet realized elsewhere, this site matches your budget to a barrister in your local area.
  • Viewabill: realtime, 24/7 legal billing that should (in theory) reduce instances of billing blunders or bill-churning by allowing the client constant access to the bill as it accrues. As we stated before, this could be good (honest billing) or bad (constant client auditing of the entries).

Though finding a job with a startup can be difficult (many only have a few employees until they make it big), Silicon Valley can be a land of opportunity. Some companies need JDs and esquires for content writing. Others need us for product design and testing. And who knows --  maybe you'll come up with the next big idea.

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